When I describe and introduce the wines of Northern Italy to friends, the biggest hangups usually center on grape varieties. Pinot Grigio, sparkling Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay, even Barbera — those we can handle. But as you work your way to the outskirts — especially Friuli Venezia Giulia — things get downright tricky. How do I tee up Ribolla Gialla or Schioppettino? What is the frame of reference?
Add Vitovska to the mix. This white grape variety comes from the extreme eastern edge of northern Italy: right up against Slovenia in a strip of land called the Carso. It is a plateau comprised of limestone, and terracing is often required. The winemakers — many with Slavic origins — have given new life to Vitovska after it nearly went extinct in the last century. Producing bright-and-light white wines of freshness and surprise (think of pears, herbs, balsamic and a wisp of honey), Vitovska is a cross between Glera and Malvasia Bianca Lunga. That’s right: two grapes that gave us Prosecco and many Vin Santo respectively. (That’s about as much of a head-scracther as hearing at the start of a movie trailer “from the producers of Mamma Mia! and Dunkirk”).
Vitovska can take on many shades, as I have found out, with the winemakers Kante and Zidarich carrying the best reputation for the grape. But one Vitovska that recently shined for me comes from Castello di Rubbia, an historic estate located in the northern edge of the Carso DOC. It may not be the prototypical Vitovska, but I love it anyway.
The estate chooses to macerate the wine on the skins for 20 days, lending it a bronze-amber color and quite a bit of character. This is followed by 18 months of aging on the lees in which malolactic fermentation occurs. The resulting wine is round, sumptuous, delicate, gently citric and ultimately refreshing. While summer lasts, enjoy it on a sunny patio.
2012 Castello di Rubbia Vitovska Carso DOC
Carso DOC, Italy
Grapes: Vitovska (100%)
Rating: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Food-friendliness: Versatile
• Value: As Expected
Tasting notes: An incredible wine. Funky and complex, delicate and sexy, with amazing dimension and aromatics.
Appealing color of bronze-amber, looking a little bit oxidized. And while aromas bring to mind Sherry at first, they eventually give way to mellow oranges, strong violets, honeycomb, almonds and even a little butter. Has superb energy throughout, with intense acidity countered by ample creaminess.
Serving suggestion: A slight chill. Pairs very well with chicken in a lemon-caper sauce served over pasta, or a poached egg underneath a few truffle shavings.
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